'It's Getting Hard to Watch': No-Hitters and Strikeouts Are Dominating Baseball Now More Than Ever
Fans watching Major League Baseball games this season are likely wondering: Where are the hits? No-hitters are considered rare, as pitchers must be near perfect for nine innings. But ESPN reports this is only the second season overall in MLB history to have four no-hitters before the end of May. Cleveland has been on the losing end of two of them.
WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto says not only are pitchers getting better, but the league batting average is also the lowest it’s been in more than 50 years. It's currently .234, lower than the .237 average of The Year of the Pitcher in 1968.
"That was when the mound was several inches higher than it is now. Throwing from higher-on down creates more velocity," Pluto said.
He also says the strike zone was larger then.
More pitchers, harder throws
Pluto says over the years pitchers are throwing harder and using technology to know what to throw.
"They have a lot more data on how to pitch to certain hitters with all of the video and all the analytics. This has really armed the pitchers and people setting up defenses to make it tougher for the hitters," Pluto said.
"Pitchers are throwing harder than ever. Hitters are swinging harder than ever. And it's getting harder to watch than ever."
Pluto also says teams are using more relief pitchers who can come in with a fresh arm, like Cleveland's Emmanuel Clase, who can clock pitches at 100 mph. As a result, Major League Baseball did implement a rule in 2020 that a pitcher much face a minimum of three batters.
"They tell these young guys who are strong, 'Get in there and throw as hard as you can. You're only going to face three of four guys, so have at it!' That's an issue," Pluto said.
Excluding the pitcher and catcher, there are four positions on an infield, with two fielders often on each side, that is until the shift became popular under managers like Joe Maddon when he was with the Tampa Bay Rays.
"You didn't [used to] see a whole lot of times where a guy came to bat and there were seven guys on the right side of the infield and outfield. You would see them spread out," Pluto said.
Pluto cited Cleveland's Jose Ramirez as an example. When he bats left handed, the defense moves an infielder to the grass on the right side and will leave just one fielder on the left side of second base, knowing that Ramirez will likely pull the ball to the right.
"Hitters have looked at all of this and said, 'There's one way to beat a shift.' And that's hitting home runs. So, you take these uppercut swings and try to hit it over the fence and this also leads to a lot of strikeouts," he said.
Pluto says the number of strikeouts in Major League Baseball has increased each of the last 14 years.
"[Major League Baseball] used to think home runs would sell — and fans do like home runs — but they also want action."
Pluto says he would like the game to go back to its purest form, when analytics and technology didn't factor in to every at-batt. But, he acknowledges that's unlikely.
"Hitters are paid for doubles and homers, and if you have a bunch of strikeouts to go with it, nobody cares."
Pluto says he's heard some ideas of how to get more offense.
One includes not allowing teams to put a second baseman in shallow right field.
"You want to shift everyone around? Go ahead. But guess what? You have to keep at least four infielders on the dirt part of the infield," Pluto said.
And he mentions another possible solution: "You can't have three guys on one side of the infield or the other. You always have to have two over on the left [side] and two around the right [side]," he said.
Speeding up the pace
Whether any changes will be made remains to be seen, but Pluto says if Major League Baseball wants to better engage fans, they better do something.
"Pitchers are throwing harder than ever. Hitters are swinging harder than ever. And it's getting harder to watch than ever. [Major League Baseball] used to think home runs would sell — and fans do like home runs — but they also want action."